Beit Midrash

  • Pesach
To dedicate this lesson
Chapter Sixteen-Part Six

Magid – Beginning the Hagada


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

17.Magid – Beginning the Hagada
After breaking the middle matza, we uncover the matzot, and the Seder leader lifts the entire Seder plate, or at least the matzot, for all of the participants to see. While doing so, he recites the paragraph "Ha Laĥma Anya" and explains the meaning of the words to the participants. Upon completing Ha Laĥma Anya, the Seder leader places the Seder plate or matzot back on the table (SA 473:6).
At this point, the Seder plate is removed, making it appear as if the Seder is over. This is done so that the children become surprised and ask why the matzot and Seder plate are being taken away before we have even begun eating. Consequently, they ask "Ma nishtana?" (SA 473:6).
After removing the Seder plate, and even before reciting "Ma nishtana," we pour the second cup. This also surprises the children, because we do not usually pour two cups of wine before a meal. Another reason we do this is that we want the whole Hagada, including the questions that precede it, to be said over a cup of wine.
It is best not to pour wine into the cups of the young children at this point, because they will have a hard time making it through the long Hagada without spilling the cup, and wine spilled on the table can cause aggravation and demonstrates disrespect for Yom Tov, which should be honored with a clean tablecloth and a beautifully set table. Therefore, it is best to pour wine for the children near the end of the Hagada, shortly before drinking the second cup.
After the second cup has been poured, the children ask "Ma nishtana?" Following this, the Seder plate is returned so that the Hagada can be recited in the presence of matza and maror, and we begin answering the children with the story of the Exodus. We have already seen (ch. 15) that the purpose of the Seder night is to fulfill the mitzva of narrating the Exodus, and that the essence of this mitzva is to tell this story to the children. We also saw that there is a Torah commandment to tell the story of the Exodus even when no children are present (above 15:1) and that there is a mitzva to begin the story with a question (ibid. 3-4). We also learned that the story must be tailored to the ability and understanding of each child (ibid. 5), and that when telling the story, one must begin with indignity and end with praise (ibid. 7). We also saw that the purpose of the Seder is that the children learn, by means of the Exodus story, about the mission of the Jewish people in this world: to adhere to God, uphold His mitzvot, live in the land that He swore to give to our ancestors and to us, to enumerate His praises among the nations, and to earn divine blessing and goodness (ibid. 6).
The Sages introduced a fixed text for the Hagada so people would relate the story of the Exodus with precision and without omitting any important elements. Additionally, it is commendable to continue telling the story after the Seder ends. However, during the recitation of the Hagada one must take care not to make things too tiresome and long-winded for the children and other participants. Reciting the text is sufficient to fulfill the mitzva in the optimal manner.
18.Laws of Reciting the Hagada
One who merely contemplates the Hagada does not fulfill the obligation to tell the Exodus story, as it is stated, "Tell your child" (Shemot 13:8), i.e., express the story verbally. However, it is not necessary for all participants to recite the Hagada; the main thing is that the Seder leader or someone else recites it aloud, and the others hear it. Indeed, it was customary for the oldest participant to read and explain the Hagada while everyone else listened. This is, in fact, the way stories are usually told (see Pesaĥim 116b).
Nowadays, in order to include everyone in the recitation of the Hagada, it is customary for the Seder leader to read it aloud while everyone else quietly reads along with him. Others have participants take turns reading paragraphs from the Hagada, but it is important to note that only a reader who has reached halakhic adulthood (i.e., is a bar or bat mitzva) can fulfill this obligation on another’s behalf.
When several sets of parents and children have the Seder together, it is not necessary for each father to tell the story to his child separately; it is sufficient for the Seder leader or another participant to read the Hagada out loud, because as long as the father makes sure that his child hears the story of the Exodus, he has fulfilled the mitzva to "tell your child." One who wishes to enhance the mitzva can further explain the Exodus to his child.
In order to fulfill the mitzva of telling the Exodus story, one must at the very least explain or hear an explanation of the Paschal sacrifice, matza, and maror. This makes clear that we were slaves in Egypt and that God redeemed us. Therefore, if parents see that their children are tired and are unable to complete the Hagada, they must tell them about the korban Pesaĥ, matza, and maror, and explain their meaning. The same principle applies to a participant who is unable to complete the Hagada due to illness or military duty (see above 15:9).
19.Customs Regarding the Recitation of the Hagada
As stated, the custom is to refrain from reclining while reciting the Hagada, because it must be recited with seriousness and reverence (MB 473:71, based on Shlah). However, this seriousness incorporates joy and elation at the fact that God chose us from among all the nations and gave us the Torah (see Kaf Ha-ĥayim 473:152).
We have already seen that the matza must be kept uncovered while we recite the Hagada, in keeping with the words of the Sages: "’leĥem oni’ – bread over which we ‘onim’ – answer or say – many things" (Pesaĥim 115b). Giving concrete expression to the Exodus story is the foundation of the mitzva to eat matza on the Seder night.
However, when we raise the wine glasses to recite the paragraphs of "Ve-hi she-amdah" ("And this [promise] has stood") and "Lefikhakh anaĥnu ĥayavim" ("Therefore it is our duty"), as well as when reciting the long berakha on redemption ("Birkat Ha-ge’ula") just before drinking the second cup, the matza should be covered. The matza is more significant than the wine, and therefore, whenever we hold up the cup of wine and show it preference, the matza must be covered (SA 473:7, MB ad loc. 73). It is for the same reason that we cover the bread when reciting kiddush every Shabbat and Yom Tov.
When reciting the paragraph "Matza zo she-anu okhlim" ("This matza that we eat"), the Seder leader holds up the matza for all of the participants to see, in order to endear the mitzva to them. And when "Maror zeh…" ("This maror…") is said, the maror is held up. However, when "Pesaĥ zeh…" is said, the zero’a is not held up, because it is not the actual meat of the korban Pesaĥ, but merely a commemoration of it. Thus, one who holds it up is like one who offers sacrifices outside the Temple precincts (Pesaĥim 116b; SA 473:7).
It is customary to spill out a bit of wine from the cup when enumerating "dam, va-esh, ve-timrot ashan" ("blood, fire, and pillars of smoke" – Yoel 3:3), while reciting "detzaĥ, adash, and be’aĥav" (R. Yehuda’s mnemonic device for remembering the Ten Plagues), and while enumerating the Ten Plagues. This comes to sixteen times. Some have a custom to drip the wine with the index finger, and others have a custom to pour out a little bit into a broken vessel (Rema 473:7; SHT 81 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 163-4 ad loc.). Rav Kook rules that one should not spill out Shemitta wine (produced from grapes grown on the Torah’s Sabbatical year; some poskim say that there is a mitzva to drink Shemitta wine, and therefore one should not refrain from using it for the four cups).
20.The Mitzva to Recite Hallel on the Seder Night
When the Temple stood, people would recite Hallel while offering the korban Pesaĥ, and again while eating it (Pesaĥim 95a). The main reason for reciting Hallel on the first night of Pesaĥ is to sing God’s praises; every Jew must see himself, on Pesaĥ night, as though he left Egypt personally, and it is only natural to sing praises to God for redeeming us. In fact, this recitation of Hallel is unique: on all other holidays we recite Hallel as an expression of praise and thanksgiving to God, but on the night of Pesaĥ we proclaim it as a song (ibid. 95b).
The Sages ordained reciting half of Hallel before the meal and half of it after the meal, so that it encompasses the eating of the korban Pesaĥ. Although we no longer have the privilege of eating the korban Pesaĥ nowadays, we eat matza instead (Maharal, Gevurot Hashem, end of ch. 62). In addition, the first half of Hallel contains Psalm 114, "When Israel left Egypt" ("Be-tzeit Yisrael Mi-Mitzrayim"), which is a continuation of the Hagada’s story. This is why, at its conclusion, we recite the blessing over the redemption from Egypt ("Birkat Ha-ge’ula"). The second half of Hallel, recited after the meal, is a more general song of thanks for all redemptions, past and future (Levush).
Another reason for dividing Hallel is that this enables us to drink all four cups over song. We drink the first cup over kiddush, the second over the first half of Hallel, the third over Birkat Ha-mazon, and the fourth over the second half of Hallel (Manhig §90). 17
The Rishonim are divided over whether or not a berakha should be recited over Hallel on Pesaĥ night. Some say two berakhot should be recited, one over each half of Hallel. Others say one berakha should be recited. There are differing opinions over the wording of the berakha as well: some say it should be "likro et ha-Hallel" ("to recite Hallel") and others say "ligmor et ha-Hallel" ("to complete the Hallel"). Another group of authorities maintains that no blessing at all should be pronounced over Hallel on the Seder night, either because it is divided into two parts (Rosh), because a berakha was already pronounced over the Hallel that was recited in the synagogue during the Ma’ariv prayer (Rashba), or because this Hallel is like a song and therefore requires no berakha (R. Hai Gaon). Some maintain that Birkat Ha-ge’ula covers Hallel as well. In practice, the custom is to refrain from making a berakha over the Hallel we recite at the Seder.
During the rest of the year, we stand while reciting Hallel, because it is like attesting to God’s greatness, and testimony must be given while standing. But the Sages did not wish to burden us on the Seder night, because all of our actions on this night must demonstrate freedom (Beit Yosef OĤ 422:7). Nevertheless, as we have learned, the Hagada should not be read while reclining, but with an air of solemnity (Shlah).
Hallel is customarily read aloud and with sweet singing (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 480:3).
21.The Laws of the Second and Fourth Cups
The only significant practical difference between communal customs regarding the laws of the Seder pertains to the berakha over the second and fourth cups.
Many Rishonim maintain that "borei pri ha-gefen" must be recited over each of the four cups, even though our attention is not diverted from one cup to the next, because each cup is a mitzva in its own right. This is the opinion of R. Natronai Gaon, R. Amram Gaon, Rif, Rambam, Maharitz (a leading Yemeni authority), and Rema, and it is the practice of Ashkenazim and of Yemeni Jews who follow Rambam.
However, Rosh maintains that "ha-gefen" must only be recited before the first and third cups. The berakha over the first cup covers the second cup because there is nothing between them to divert our attention. We recite a berakha over the third cup because it follows Birkat Ha-mazon and a berakha is always recited over wine we drink after Birkat Ha-mazon, even if "ha-gefen" was recited earlier in the meal, because Birkat Ha-mazon serves as a berakha aĥarona for the wine one drinks during the meal. The berakha over the third cup covers the fourth cup as well. R. Yona and Rashba also maintain that "ha-gefen" is recited over the first and third cups only. SA rules accordingly, and this is the Sephardic custom.
There are also differing opinions among Rishonim regarding the berakha aĥarona over the wine. In practice, however, there is a consensus not to recite a berakha aĥarona after each cup of wine. Rather, Birkat Ha-mazon covers the first two cups, and the berakha aĥarona ("al ha-gefen") recited after the fourth cup covers both the third and fourth cups. 18
^ 17.. The practice of saying half of Hallel before the meal is cited in a mishna in Pesaĥim 116b. Ibid. 117a explains the mitzva of saying Hallel to commemorate miracles. See the introduction to Hagada Torah Sheleima ch. 27, which summarizes both sides of the dispute about whether or not one should recite a berakha over this Hallel. See also Kaf Ha-ĥayim 473:160-161 and Ha-Seder He-arukh.
^ 18.. It is worth adding here that many families customarily prolong the recitation of the Hagada beyond seventy-two minutes, which is the time it takes to digest and is generally considered the amount of time that constitutes an interruption, after which one may not recite a berakha aĥarona. It would seem, then, that an extended recitation of the Hagada would mean that Birkat Ha-mazon does not cover the first cup of wine, in which case one will not have recited a berakha aĥarona over the first cup of wine. Moreover, according to MA 184:9, if one waited for this amount of time between the first and second cups, he must recite a new berakha, which contradicts the ruling of SA that one need not recite a new berakha over the second cup (since the berakha on the first cup covers it). Additionally, how does this issue fit with Rashbam’s ruling that the berakha recited on the karpas also covers the maror? How can this work if more than seventy-two minutes have elapsed? This question is also raised in SA 473:6, which takes the view of Rashbam into consideration. Furthermore, the first cup is also kiddush, which must be part of a meal. When there is such a long break, perhaps kiddush must be recited again, so that it is part of the meal. Because of all of these problems, some poskim maintain that one should be careful to recite the Hagada in less than seventy-two minutes (see Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 3:9). Notwithstanding these concerns, many people still prolong the recitation of the Hagada for more than seventy-two minutes (see Mikra’ei Kodesh 2:30, Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 20:5, and Responsa Ĥazon Ovadia §11, which justify this practice based on various rationales, such as explaining that the berakha aĥarona on the fourth cup also covers the first cup). In my humble opinion, the entire issue of a significant interruption ("hefsek") in a meal only applies when one engages in unrelated activities (even if he does not take his mind off the meal). In this case, though, he is not dealing with unrelated issues; rather, he is involved in the Seder and the Hagada. Therefore, since the second cup is poured right at the beginning of the recitation of the Hagada, and since the entire recitation of the Hagada is connected to the second cup, the time between the first and second cups is not considered a hefsek. Consequently, there is no hefsek between kiddush and the meal; the recitation of the Hagada is considered part of the Seder, since telling the story of the Exodus is an integral part of the mitzva of eating matza. Similarly, telling the Exodus story is also inherently connected to the mitzva of eating maror, so the recitation of the Hagada does not constitute a hefsek between the eating of karpas and the eating of maror (and the berakha on karpas covers the maror as well).
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